A Trio of Teeny Reviews

Ain’t She a Peach
Southern Eclectic #4
Molly Harper
Gallery Books, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-5133-0
Trade Paperback

Once again, the McCready family of Lake Sackett, Georgia, is back in fine fettle with their McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop and, also once again, they’ve captured my heart. This time the focus is on Frankie, the youngish coroner/embalmer who considers herself well past the age of independence but her parents don’t know how to even begin to think of letting their precious only child spread her wings, so to speak. Sure, she sneaks off to Atlanta occasionally for a night of satisfying rowdiness but she can’t make herself move out (although she has disabled the location service they use to track her). There are very good reasons for this helicopter parenting but, really, she needs to grow a pair!

There’s a new Sheriff in town, Erik Linden, and while Frankie has a few, or a lot, of philosophical differences with Erik, including his queasiness around her dead customers, she’s finding it very hard to resist the man. Meanwhile, the rest of the McCready bunch are around and about and the town’s Halloween Trunk-R-Treat festival is coming up while a teenaged desperado has it in for Frankie for some reason.

The whole rambunctious McCready clan is a family I’d love to be part of and this fourth book in Molly Harper‘s series is just as much fun as all the others. Oh, I do hope there will be more!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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Jurassic, Florida
Hunter Shea: One Size Eats All #1
Hunter Shea
Lyrical Press/Kensington, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5161-0793-3
Ebook

LOL, I’m still chuckling over this book and I have only myself to blame for not having indulged in Hunter Shea‘s work before. Polo Springs, Florida, is a quiet little place but people are starting to notice that the lizard population, specifically small iguanas, seems to be popping up everywhere. Not just popping up—slithering and scampering and the little beasts apparently have lost all fear. Not so the humans in this town, folks like Frank who’s running from the mob and Ann Hickok, the very unlikely mayor who’s only 18 years old. Everyone in Polo Springs has stepped into their own Godzilla movie and the future’s looking very, very dim.

Polo Springs is about to get a rude awakening and they’ll wish they had those little iguanas back. In scenes that are alternately grisly and scream-inducing but also high camp, we learn the answer to the question: can anyone save this town from the invasion of giant people-eating critters?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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In His Kiss
Neil Plakcy
Featherweight Publishing, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-64122-112-2
Trade Paperback

There’s nothing easy about high school, as most of us know, but senior Michael has it worse than some. First of all, he’s gay. No big secret there but he’s almost painfully shy and definitely insecure when it comes to actually finding “the right one” or even one who will do for right now. He’s also saddled with his younger brother, Robbie, aka the Big Mistake and family life pretty much revolves around Robbie with his multitudes of allergies and other issues. On the positive side, he has an awesome best friend, Brie, and she makes life in Stewart’s Crossing, Pennsylvania, tolerable although Michael is way past ready to get out of Dodge.

And then along comes Daniel Florez and life for Michael will never be the same again. Luckily for him, Daniel has a little more self-confidence—really, he’s almost oblivious to what’s not supposed to work or maybe his home life has just given him a thicker skin so he’s not quite as vulnerable. Whatever it is, Daniel is not afraid to make the first move and the second and the third… Suddenly, things are looking up for these two really nice kids and the future might be bright but there are some side effects, including resentment from Brie, but why are strange things happening to Michael, like awesome SAT scores? And, minor detail, why is the FBI hanging around spying on Daniel?

With a bit of fantasy and a lot of high school angst, not to mention lots of humor and love of all sorts, Neil Plakcy has created a story that had me smiling a lot and cringing just a little (in a good way) and I definitely want to know what Michael and Daniel are going to be up to next 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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Book Reviews: Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg and Shark Skin Suite by Tim Dorsey

GangsterlandGangsterland
Tod Goldberg
Counterpoint Press, August 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61902-578-3
Trade Paperback

The idea of juxtaposing the mafia, a hit man, and a Reform Jewish temple in Las Vegas forms the basis for this outrageous but satisfying novel.  It is filled with a variety of characters and a plot that carries the theme with aplomb.  While the concept may appear to be beyond the realms of reality, the author carries it out with grace and humor.

It all begins in Chicago, where Sal Cupertine is an extraordinary hit man for the mob, efficient, careful and never caught.  Until one day he is assigned to meet with some purported drug sellers who turn out to be FBI agents and, for the first time, his face becomes known, so he has to kill them for self-preservation but has to flee the Windy City hidden in a refrigerated truck.  Sal ends up in Las Vegas, undergoes facial surgery and, because he has a retentive memory, is turned into Rabbi David Cohen, part of a new racket.

While many of the Talmudic and Biblical references, which colorfully emit from David’s (Sal’s) lips throughout the novel, may be questionable, they set the tone for the incredible plot.  If there is one drawback to the novel it is the final passages which to this reader did not ring true, although, supposedly, are intended to provide a morality to this mafia story.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2015.

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Shark Skin SuiteShark Skin Suite
Serge Storms #18
Tim Dorsey
William Morrow, January 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-224001-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  “Bottom feeders beware: The Sunshine State’s favorite psychotic killer and lovable Floridaphile, Serge Storms, has found a new calling, legal eagle, and he’s going to make a killing as a crusading attorney – – and star as a dashing lawyer on the big screen – – in this madcap escapade . . . When it comes to swimming with the sharks, there is no bigger kahuna than Serge Storms.  Binging on a marathon of legal movies set in Florida, Serge finds his vocation:  the law.  Never mind law school or that degree; Serge becomes a freelance fixer – – wildcat paralegal and pilgrim to the hallowed places where legal classics of the big screen such as Body Heat, Cool Hand Luke, and Absence of Malice were filmed practically in his own backyard.”

I found it nearly impossible to summarize the plot of this book; suffice it to say that I began and ended the book with a silly smile on my face, which was the default display for much of everything in between.  As stated above, much of the novel is an homage to those classic films; to say that Serge is a movie buff is a huge understatement.  In addition, the author captures the feel of the Florida streets in, e.g., downtown Miami:  “The foot traffic was determined in the midday heat.  Folded newspapers, briefcases, take-out bags with Cuban sandwiches.  A teenager sprinted up the middle of the street with a fistful of wristwatches.  A whiskered man on the corner of Flagler had been screaming and kicking his own bicycle for five minutes.  A shopowner chasing the shoplifting teen was hit by an ambulance.  One of the folded newspapers told of a mysterious eyeball the size of a cantaloupe that had washed upon the beach.  Everything was normal.  Pedestrians continued chatting on cell phones.”

The author’s writing style is certainly unique, and the resulting work is recommended.  Just what I needed after a fairly steady recent diet of dark, death- and danger-filled books.  (Although I should perhaps add that there are a couple of dead bodies before the book comes to a close.)

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2015.

Book Review: Killer Instinct by Robert W. Walker

Killer InstinctKiller Instinct
Instinct #1

Robert W. Walker
Read by Brian Nishii
Instinct INK Books, October 2013
Unabridged Downloaded Audio Book
Also available in trade paperback (2013) and ebook (2009)
Originally published in mass market paperback (1992)

From the author—

DR. JESSICA CORAN

A brilliant and determined FBI medical examiner, she was an expert student of the criminal mind who thought she could face anything.

That was before Wisconsin. Before she saw one of his victims…

THE VAMPIRE KILLER

The FBI agent had a special code name for his unusual method of torture: Tort 9, the draining of the victim’s blood. The newspapers called him the Vampire-Killer. But his own twisted love letters were signed “Teach”… and were addressed to the one woman he wanted most of all: His hunter, his prey, Dr. Jessica Coran.

There are some authors who earn the designation “prolific” quite honestly and Robert W. Walker is one of them for sure. Last time I looked, he had something like 75 books published under the Walker name and various pseudonyms, not to mention a lot of nonfiction and short stories. The man makes me exhausted just thinking about it. Anyway, I first met Rob way back when my bookshop handled sales for the mystery authors (and some others) at the Virginia Festival of the Book. I think it may have been the 2007 festival but, whenever it was, he had a ton of books even then and I found him to be a most engaging person although some would call him curmudgeonly these days 😉

I had already read a couple of his books and my interest grew after meeting him so I dove into quite a few more but the demands of a bookstore and the need to read across a broad spectrum pulled me away and I never got back to Mr. Walker‘s books until I heard that he had developed audio editions. I love audio books inordinately and his news piqued my interest right away. I’d already read Killer Instinct in print years before but, let’s face it, I rarely remember details of a book—can count on my two hands the ones that have really stuck with me—and re-reading presents no problems at all.

Re-reading Killer Instinct was a real pleasure. From the vantage point of so many years, I can see flaws more readily especially since this book came pretty early in the author’s career, but they didn’t detract from the core story too much. I was kind of disgusted, for one thing, by the “petite skirt” at a crime scene; I’ve come to expect that nonsense on TV but would like to think authors know better than that (while reminding myself that this was first published in a very sexist 1992). Also, Jessica does do one or two pretty dumb things that put her perilously close to the TSTL line and I really couldn’t buy into the romantic element. I did think that Jessica is not as interesting as Teach at first and that’s not surprising in itself because the villain is often the more fascinating personality in books as in real life. That said, I do think Jessica is very engaging, capable, strong-minded and (mostly) highly intelligent.

Serial killers tend to be very nasty people and there is no lack of nastiness in this book. In fact, if you’re easily nauseated by gruesome violence, I’d suggest you go read something else. Bloodletting is only the beginning here.

And what does it say about me that I’m not usually nauseated by such things?

Now, as to the audio, I can’t say I thought it was great. This narrator comes across as inexperienced (although he’s not) and he makes quite a few pronunciation errors as well as being overly dramatic at times. However, I became more and more accustomed to his style as the recording moved along and I thought he did the different voices pretty well, well enough that I almost always knew which character was speaking. Mr. Nishii is not the worst I’ve ever listened to by any means and his being the narrator would not put me off trying other books. He’s the kind of narrator that I suspect would grow on me.

So, have I been pulled back into the Robert W. Walker fold? Why, yes, I believe so and I’ll be trying another audio edition sooner rather than later.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2015.

 

Book Review: Running with Wild Blood by Gerrie Ferris Finger

Running With Wild BloodRunning With Wild Blood
A Moriah Dru / Richard Lake Mystery
Gerrie Ferris Finger
Five Star, January 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4328-2966-7
Hardcover

This is another intense, convoluted and complicated case for Moriah Dru and Richard Lake out of Atlanta, Georgia. Dru, a former cop, is the head of a PI firm that specializes in finding and protecting lost, damaged and at-risk children. Her lover and frequent partner is a lieutenant in the Atlanta PD.

A three-year-old cold case, the murder of a sixteen-year-old girl engages Lake who in turn engages Dru to help him solve the murder of this wild teenager. The more they probe beneath the surface, the odder and more troubling facts, suppositions and cross-currents bubble to the surface. The duo’s task is complicated by the association of some principals in the case with local motorcycle clubs and gangs. Soon, the coiling tentacles of the case engage the FBI and other police agencies in other states.

The novel is an intense and thoughtful look at motorcycle clubs and gangs, their motivations and rivalries. Locations range across multiple state and city jurisdictions and the author has made an effort to illuminate some of the restraints and difficulties encountered when law enforcement pursues cases across state and municipal boundaries. The contrasts between an upper-class private school with all its social niceties and the rough and tumble world of the biker are interesting.

There are several incidents of violence and incipient head-breaking. They are well-handled on the page and will, I suggest, keep readers engaged. The pace of the novel is by no means pell-mell, but the tension is palpable, the characters genuine, the dialogue both pert and realistic. A very satisfying experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2015.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Review: Whirlwind by Rick Mofina

WhirlwindWhirlwind
Rick Mofina
Harlequin Mira, March 2014
ISBN No. 978-0778316091
Mass Market Paperback

Jenna Cooper was shopping at the Old Southern Glory Flea Market. She enjoyed shopping at the flea market and even though her husband Blake had recently gone to work, the time he was laid off put the family in a financial bind. Jenna was bargaining with the owner of one of the stalls. The woman asked Jenna the ages of her little ones. Jenna responded that Cassie was four, almost five, and baby Caleb was five months old. A young woman at the end of the stall commented to Jenna that her little girl was beautiful. Then the young woman asked again if Caleb was five months old. The young woman came over, leaned over Caleb’s stroller, and continued to make remarks about his age and his looks. Jenna noticed a man at the end of the stall that seemed to be with the young woman.

Jenna decided she needed to get Caleb fed but first was going to look for a lamp she saw a little earlier. About that time, the wind started up and people began running for shelter. Just as she managed to get Cassie into a rain jacket and the canopy down on Caleb’s stroller, the crowd began to be peppered with golf size hail. A man in the crowd just hung up his phone announcing that his wife was east of Lancaster and a tornado had hit. He said he had to go find his wife and everyone should take cover. Suddenly an old man noticed a school bus spinning around hundreds of feet in the air above the flea market.

The children were terrified and Jenna was sure she couldn’t make it to her car. The nearest building seemed to be her best hope of shelter. Suddenly the redheaded woman who had spoken to Jenna and talked about the children was beside her and along with the man Jenna had seen earlier, was directing her to a safer area. Jenna held tight to her children but suddenly she was struck on the head by something and blacked out. When Jenna came to Cassie was there but the baby was gone.

Kate Paige is an intern reporter at the Dallas headquarters of the global news service, Newslead. Dorothea Pick, the bureau’s news editor, was not a fan of Kate and Kate was having a rough time getting her stories past the editor without the stories being chopped to pieces. In spite of her own problems, when Kate hears Jenna’s story she is determined to find out what has happened to baby Caleb.

Kate begins to uncover a plot so sinister that unless something is done and done quickly Caleb may be lost to his family forever. The FBI begins an investigation but Kate continues to follow her own instincts and is determined to get baby Caleb back with his family where he belongs.

This is a fast moving novel that grabs the reader and doesn’t let go. Mofina has written a powerful story that keeps the reader on edge all the way.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, March 2014.

Book Reviews: Blessed Are the Dead by Malla Nunn, Let the Devil Sleep by John Verdon, All I Did Was Shoot My Man by Walter Mosley, and Guilt by Jonathan Kellerman

Blessed Are the DeadBlessed Are the Dead
Malla Nunn
Emily Bestler Books/Washington Square Press, June 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-1692-7
Trade Paperback

The iconoclastic South African detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper returns in this excellent third installment in the series, replete with poignant observations on the effects of the rigid apartheid system in the country in 1953.  Cooper, who remains in the dog house for past transgressions, is plucked by his superior to solve a murder in an attempt to resurrect his status.

Accompanied by black Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala, he finds the body of a 17-year-old Zulu girl, daughter of a chief.  There are no clues at the scene, and the two have to scrounge for leads and face obstacles from the natives and landowners, each with their own agenda. The victim herself was involved in both the white and native African worlds, so that the detectives have to cope with the guarded secrets of both communities.

The characters drawn with deep accuracy to depict the characteristics of the South African society at the time are real and flawed.  The novel brings the reader into the corrupt atmosphere of the country with careful descriptions and sharp prose.  Another welcome addition to the adventures of a colorful detective, and it is most highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2012.

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Let the Devil SleepLet the Devil Sleep
John Verdon
Crown, July 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-71792-4
Hardcover

In his third appearance, retired NYPD detective David Gurney probably wishes he never answered the telephone.  By doing so, he ends up in a most precarious situation when a journalist who had written a laudatory profile of him when he was a top homicide detective asks him to look over her daughter’s shoulder.  The daughter has a chance to have her thesis idea converted into a TV series: “Orphans of the Murder,” a series of interviews with the families of the victims of a killer known as The Good Shepherd.  The homicides had taken place a decade earlier.

Gurney reluctantly agrees, but then becomes more and more involved in the case, which he believes was mishandled in the original investigation.  Of course, as he continues to look into it and raise questions, he makes no friends in the establishment, especially the FBI which had assumed control of the case.  And complicating his efforts is the Good Shepherd’s attempts to forestall and kill the TV series.

The novel begins as Gurney is slowly recovering from three gunshot wounds, one to his head, as a result of his last exploit.  And, of course, no Gurney story would leave him uninjured as a result of his determination to solve a case.  While the plot is logical and straightforward, a lot of the writing is repetitive, especially Gurney’s relations with his second wife, Madeleine, and his son, Kyle. That said, the story moves forward at a swift pace and has an unforeseen conclusion, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2012.

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All I Did Was Shoot My ManAll I Did Was Shoot My Man
Walter Mosley
NAL, February 2013
ISBN: 978-0-4512-3916-7
Trade Paperback

Leonid Trotter (“LT”) McGill is a 55-year-old African-American man, a former boxer, con man, fixer and over-all reprobate turned [relatively honest] PI is one of the more unusual characters in mystery fiction. Married, he has little if anything to do with his wife.  As far as his three children are concerned, he acknowledges that two are not his, but he loves and nurtures all.  His collection of friends and associates are as unconventional as he is.  And so are the books in the series, all somewhat bizarre but very enjoyable.

The plots of the series books, while intricate and complicated, tend to be odd.  And the present installment is no different.  In the past, LT framed a young woman who shot her boyfriend three times, when she came home to find him in bed with her best friend.  Since she was destined to go to jail anyway, he planted evidence in her locker of complicity in a $548 million heist from an insurance company.  Some years later, LT finds the “false” information that led to her conviction following which his lawyer gets her released from prison. As a result, a number of events take place, including an attempt on LT’s life, along with the murders of several others.  Of course, it’s up to him to solve the case.

Written in a style that sometimes defies belief, the complexity and insight of the novel and, especially, the LT character, are overwhelming.  With each book, development of LT as a person deepens, and the reader gains substantial knowledge of the man.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2013.

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GuiltGuilt
Jonathan Kellerman
Ballantine, February 2013
ISBN: 978-0-345-50573-6
Hardcover

The team of psychologist Alex Delaware and LAPD homicide detective Lt. Milo Sturgis has been solving cases for a long time.  But not like the crimes described in this latest installment.  It starts out with the discovery of a child’s bones, which appear to be old, perhaps dating to the 1950’s.  Soon, however, a fresh set of bones is found in a nearby park.  And on the other side of the park, a murdered young woman.  Are all these connected?

Following the familiar plot line, the detective follows procedure, and the psychologist thinks off the wall.  And together they find the path to solving the mysteries, a tough road.  Looking into the history of ownership of the first site provides little guidance.  And there isn’t much more to go on in the case of the new set of bones or of the murder victim.

The hallmark of the series is the interchange and quips between Alex and Milo, and Guilt is no exception.  The author has perfected the novels, plotting and characters to such a high degree as to make each new entry a joy to read.  And the newest book conforms to that ideal, and certainly is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2013.

Book Review: The Vanishing Point by Val McDermid

The Vanishing Point
Val McDermid
Atlantic Monthly Press, October 2012
ISBN 9780802120526
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Young Jimmy Higgins is snatched from an airport security checkpoint while his guardian watches helplessly from the glass inspection box. But this is no ordinary abduction, as Jimmy is no ordinary child. His mother was Scarlett, a reality TV star who, dying of cancer and alienated from her unreliable family, entrusted the boy to the person she believed best able to give him a happy, stable life: her ghost writer, Stephanie Harker. Assisting the FBI in their attempt to recover the missing boy, Stephanie reaches into the past to uncover the motive for the abduction. Has Jimmy been taken by his own relatives? Is Stephanie’s obsessive ex-lover trying to teach her a lesson? Has one of Scarlett’s stalkers come back to haunt them all?

There are certain authors I always can count on to provide me with an excellent read, a brief escape into a world I can laugh at or be mesmerized by, a world that shakes me to the core for one reason or another. I understand, though, that many of those authors whose work I admire so much might stumble now and then. The Vanishing Point is Val McDermid‘s stumble.

Ms. McDermid is a wonderful writer—I have enjoyed everything of hers I’ve read until this one—and even this has some redeeming aspects. It’s not a BAD book; it just doesn’t rise to the level of her usual top notch work and that becomes evident early in the story.

Most of the disappointment I had was in regard to the credibility of the story. For a woman who shows a lot of inner strength and is clearly able to take care of herself, Stephanie seems too insecure, beyond what could be attributed to her past relationship. More importantly, what happens in the airport just isn’t believable enough. Stephanie knows she will have to be screened or patted down because of the metal in her leg so why wouldn’t she make sure the child stayed close by? As much as we, the public, dislike the behavior of a few TSA employees (and as much as we may hate the whole system), I have a hard time believing they would so totally dismiss her screams for help when she sees what’s happening. And, when it becomes obvious that time is critical, no FBI agent would allow Stephanie to go on and on with the backstory, nor would Stephanie want to blather on while little is being done to find Jimmy. The last straw for me was when I realized that she was inexplicably hesitant to tell the FBI agent about the person who is very likely to be behind the kidnapping.

Unfortunately, with such plot holes early on, I found it hard to engage with the story or even take it as seriously as such a topic deserves but I did finish the book, hoping Ms. McDermid would pull it together. To a certain extent, she did, but the twist ending was too little too late.  I have no doubt the author will get back on track with the next book and I’m certainly going to look forward to it but, sadly, this one is not a keeper for me.  Our reactions to books are very personal, though, and many of her devoted readers will like it.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2012.